Pablo Larrain’s desolate drama The Club takes a windblown hike over the hills and down into the dark night of the soul. Dealing with a group of disgraced priests packed off, out-of-sight and out-of-mind, to a seaside retreat; this is certainly a film that is critical of the institution of the Catholic Church. It’s also a film about personal failure, revenge and to a large degree, redemption. Larrain’s angry story doesn’t shy away from weighty issues of abuse as it ticks away with a grim sort of determination, continuing to get bleaker and more distressing as its story plays out.
In a seaside cottage, overlooking a modest town in the Chilean countryside, four priests are living out a life of penance along with their prize-winning greyhound and housekeeper for company. The priests have been part-excommunicated and sent to live out a quiet life as punishment for a range of transgressions. Their relatively untroubled peace is broken one morning following the arrival of a fifth, child-abusing, priest sent to join them. He has been followed by one of his victims, now an adult and a broken man. The man’s constant, desperate wailing from outside the cottage drives the fifth priest to commit suicide throwing the priests, and their untroubled way of life, into the spotlight.
The unwanted attention prompts the church to send a younger priest, something of an enforcer, down to the cottage to carry out an inspection. It’s clear this new addition to the mix has no time for the priests or their lifestyles and begins to dismantle the set-up making it clear that there will be no peaceful resolution for the priests.
Larrain alludes to, rather than makes obvious, the reasons for the various priests secondment to the middle of nowhere. This is a film comfortable dealing with the darker, more distressing elements of human behaviour, but it’s a show of personal grief rather than outward destruction. The sins of the men are kept as gloomy as the surroundings in which they find themselves. If The Club is not an out and out descent into personal hell, it’s at the very least snapshot of remote, personal purgatory.
As events begin to overtake the men, the movies’ final movement takes on an alarming and dangerous tone. Passions boil and long-carried wounds re-surface as things become ever more desperate and horrifying. The final act is almost panic-inducing, it becomes so utterly unbearable to watch. Larrain has continued his work from the rather more uplifting No in examining abuses of power. The Club stands in contrast to his previous, affirming vision, but it is no less devastating.
Director: Pablo Larrain
Writer: Guillermo Calderon, Pablo Larrain, Daniel Villalobos
Starring: Roberto Fabias, Antonia Zegers
Runtime: 97 minutes